9 Times Table is my first collection of short stories to be published. I've written short stories for years. Usually I do so with some kind of common theme.
For instance, about five years ago, I wrote a series of ten to fifteen short stories around two rules I gave myself. The first was that each story had to be in first person. This was a techincal exercise to see how much variety I could fit into a technique which I've always been wary of. I hate the first person when you can clearly hear the author's voice rather than a character's. So repeating it so many times meant doing my utmost to give a sense of variety. The second rule - which also gave me the title for the proposed collection - was Everybody Dies. The collection was never published but came to life when a group of Italian students needed some texts to translate in my post-graduate course at the University of Venice. Every year they would be assigned a story and then translate it, coming up against some very tough idiomatic and colloquial language. Having the author present was of only limited help, it turned out. But it was a joy to see them wrestle with the texts and make them their own. Some I've put on the writing page of this website, if you're curious.
9 Times Table came about during a family holiday to Rome and the surrounding area. I was doing a 21 day poetry challenge I'd set myself: writing and posting a poem every day for 21 days on facebook. It was initially born of scorn for that kind of thing but inevitably became that type of thing. I actually enjoyed writing poetry when there was no pretense to quality or hard work. Just quick improvisation, which has always been my favoured method. With the creative juices already going, I started to think up ideas for short horror tales, influenced also by my reading of Stephen King and several episodes that happened while on holiday. One was seeing a boar loaping through the Tuscan dusk. It was a big black beast that moved so fast I thought it was a kid on a motorbike. An old villa we stayed at also provided me with a story. Before I knew it, ideas were coming thick and fast and once finished with my poetry challenge and home again, I wrote the stories in about ten days. They are all fantastic, magical to some degree, though I'm not sure how scary anyone will find them. It's difficult for me to judge that. I've never found the Shining scary for instance, but others claim it is terrifying. I love the film, but it doesn't scare me. The horror genre though is a great place to explore ideas, nightmares and fantasies that dare not admit to being what we actually want to happen. There are some twists, but I find the inevitable as compelling as the SPOILER-ready twist. M. Night Shyamalan and Game of Thrones have a lot to answer for. Hamlet is more powerful because we know what is going to happen: we always knew. Same for Christianity for that matter.
Okay. Enough said. You know what you have to do.
You can buy the collection here in paperback or on Kindle.
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John Bleasdale is a writer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Il Manifesto, as well as CineVue.Com and theStudioExec.com. He has also written a number of plays, screenplays and novels.